How to Win Valentine’s Day! The North Jersey Edition

Before I begin this post, I feel like a disclaimer is in order.  I am tired of receiving hate mail that uses phrases that would make Tyrion Lannister blush.  I am fully aware that the name of my blog is The Blue Collar Foodie and normally I attempt to stay in the great food at a great price wheel house.  However, there are a few exceptions.  One of these exceptions is Valentine’s Day.

Most people would not guess it, but I am a hopeless romantic.  I literally, love…love.  The whimsy, the intensity, the nervousness…Oh hell, the whole damn idea of it.  Therefore, even though I am cognizant that Valentine’s Day is a B.S. Hallmark, made-up Holiday; I thoroughly enjoy going all out and trying to wow my wonderful wife each and every year.

What does this entail you ask?  Ladies and Gentleman I present to you The Blue Collar Foodie’s Guide to winning Valentine’s Day!

valentines-day-craftsStep 1:  Send Flowers to Your Loved One’s Workplace:  I know they are expensive and I know they will die in a week, but suck it up Buttercup, today is not the day to think that way.  Every other day of the year, I am all about Shoprite Tulips and Gas Station Roses, but that just won’t do on V-Day.  When you get flowers delivered, you are sending a message and that message is clear and concise.  Dear Loved One. you are worth the forethought and the expense of these dying, colorful capsules of allergy laden dust.

Step 2:  Get a gift:  I know what you are thinking.  I just spent $60 bucks on flowers, I thought that was the gift.  Wrong!  I am not saying you have to go out and get your Bae a diamond necklace or anything; I mean unless that is how you roll, then by all means you do you Baller.  I am simply saying that a small thoughtful gift with a personal touch will be appreciated and truly show you care.  I feel like these should not have to be said, but since I know my audience all too well.  NO SEX COUPONS!  Get your ass to Etsy and do some searching for a great inexpensive gift.

Step 3:  Put Pen to Paper:  I know we are not all William Shakespeare or Robert Frost but for heaven’s sake do not give your significant other a Valentine’s Day card with the stock message and some X’s and O’s.  To paraphrase one of my favorite movies, if you write it, they will come! See what I did there… I assure you, even if you write the worst poem ever, the fact that you tried will be enough to set the tone for the rest of the evening.

Step 4:  Where you eat counts:  I know I don’t have to explain this to most of you, considering you clicked this link because you were promised restaurant suggestions for Valentine’s Day.  Where you eat and what you eat will go along way to set the mood.  For Kat and I, it is the single most important decision and also the single greatest contributor to our quarrels.  So, on this day in particular after spending so much time and effort in attempting to create the perfect day for my wife, choosing our eatery is a taxing task that I do not take lightly.

As I mentioned above today is not the day to hem and haw about prices, and lord help you if you whip out a Groupon.  Valentine’s Day is all about the ambience and charm of an establishment.  The story behind the restaurant can aid in the allure almost as much as the food.  Not to mention, it is the perfect excuse to drop some money on a wonderful meal that you don’t often get to experience.  So without further ado, I present The Blue Collar Foodie’s top 12 North Jersey Restaurants for Valentine’s Day:

Ninety Acres

Ninety Acres:  2 Main Street Peapack & Gladstone, NJ 07977

You have heard of farm to table, well Ninety Acres is quite literally a table at the farm.  This palatial establishment is located on the Natirar Estate which has spent the last 100 years being a private residence, a convalescent home for women, and even the vacation home of a Moroccan King.  In true farm to table form the menu is always evolving with the seasons, but have no fear, you will never be disappointed.   The food served here is equally as beautiful as the grounds of the estate.

The Deal:  Exclusive Offering of Special four-course Prex Fixe menu with options for each course: $125 per person, $175 with wine pairings.

Photo by Cathy Miller

Photo by Cathy Miller

Café Matisse:  167 Park Avenue, Rutherford, NJ 07070

This intimate and always impressive eatery is located in a historic decommissioned horse and buggy fire house in the heart of Rutherford, NJ.  Their garden has been called enchanting in the spring and summer, but their interior dining experience is almost equally as charming.  The menu at Café Matisse is stacked with stunning dishes that have depth of flavor that is rarely seen outside of the most esteemed New York Eateries.

The Deal:  Three Course (2 savory/1 dessert) – $75 per person, Four Course (3 savory/1 dessert) – $95 per person, or Five Course (4 savory/1 dessert)- $115 per person, plus tax and gratuities.

Note:  Café Matisse is BYOB

Batello

Battello:  502 Washington Boulevard, Jersey City, NJ 07310

If fine dining with a remarkable view is what gets your motor running, Battello is the place for you.  This epic eatery serves inspired fare with a side of a majestic view of the New York City Skyline.  ( The Best Skyline in the World)   The dining area is often described as luxurious and lofty, and exudes romance.  The food is almost as breathtaking as the view!

The Deal:  A Three-course prix-fixe menu, offered at $85 per person complemented by an optional wine pairing at $25 per person ($50 for reserve)

Jockey Hollow Bar & Kitchen

Jockey Hollow Bar and Kitchen:  110 South Street Morristown NJ 07960

This well-regarded establishment is located in the lavish Vail Mansion in Morristown, New Jersey.  The dining space itself is exquisite and makes you feel like royalty from the moment you walk in.  The fine dining area which radiates luxury and class, is a must for this special occasion.  Jockey Hollow is a haven for couples that truly love food and want to experience dining in a relaxed yet sophisticated environment.

The Deal:  Four-course prix fixe experience where guests select three savory courses and finish with one sweet course for $81 or a six-course, seasonal $108 chef’s tasting menu for the entire table for $108.

Restaurant Lorena's

Restaurant Lorena’s:  168 Maplewood Avenue Maplewood, NJ 07040

Restaurant Lorena’s is considered by many in the foodie world as the best kept secret of the North Jersey culinary scene.  Over the past ten years this quaint eatery has quietly amassed quite a few awards for their awe-inspiring dishes.  The menu is heavily influenced by French Cuisine and the Chef’s attention to detail shines in every dish.  If you and your beau are looking for an intimate and romantic night out, this very well may be your spot.

The Deal:  Three course Prix Fixe for $150.00 per person, Oysters included

Note:  Restaurant Lorena’s is BYOB

pearl-front

Pearl Restaurant:   17 S Broad St. Ridgewood, New Jersey

For those of you that have Champagne Wishes and Caviar Dreams but are on a budget, this wonderfully romantic local establishment is perfect for you and your sweetheart.  Don’t let the amazingly affordable price tag fool you either, Pearl offers magnificent cuisine made with the finest meats, fish, and vegetables that are selected daily.  Pearl is the best value on this list by far, as their fare is comparable to establishments where I have paid triple the price.

The Deal:  Three Course Prix Fixe Menu for only $ 26.95 per person

Note:  Pearl Restaurant is BYOB

Scalini Fedeli

Scalini Fedeli:  63 Main St, Chatham, NJ 07928

Since we are in New Jersey and it is safe to say that at least 70% of my following is probably Italian, I would be remiss to not include my absolute favorite Italian Restaurant.  Not only is the food spectacular and each dish painstakingly prepared as if it was a piece of art, this astonishing establishment is located in a refurbished 260 year old farmhouse.  The moment you walk into Scalini Fedeli you feel at home, and the service is impeccable.  I seriously love this place and I am sure you will too!  Come hungry!

The Deal:  Three Course Prix Fixe Menu $59

cafe panache

Café Panache:  130 E. Main St. Ramsey, NJ 07446

This sophisticated eatery is located in the center of downtown Ramsey, New Jersey and has been a staple of fine dining in Northern New Jersey for over 30 years.  The Chef focuses on fresh, locally sourced ingredients that become the star of each dish.  Café Panache is a great place for the couple that has everything in common, except the type of cuisine they love, due to their wonderfully eclectic menu.  You don’t exist in the restaurant world for 30 years unless you are doing something exceptional and that is exactly what Cafe Panache is doing.

The Deal:  Ala Cart ordering

common lot

Common Lot:  27 Main St, Millburn, NJ 07041

Common Lot’s website sums up their establishment too perfectly to paraphrase, “The surroundings are elegant but unpretentious; comfortable but handsome — an expression of our personalities and our commitment to the dining experience.”  At Common Lot they have truly created a relaxed eating environment that allows us commoners to enjoy fine dining without feeling as if we are out of place.  Not to mention their plates are full of internationally influenced cuisine that are both creative and bursting with flavor.  Common Lot is for the couple that enjoys the finer things in food, but buys their clothes off the rack.

The Deal:  Four-Course Meal for $90 a person

Frog and The Peach

The Frog and The Peach:  29 Dennis Street New Brunswick, NJ 08901

This restaurant occupies an old industrial building, circa 1876, and the historical splendor of this establishment glimmers in every room.  The Frog and The Peach offers several areas to dine in and each exhibits their own charm and uniqueness.  Their menu offers American Cuisine with a refined flare created with only the best locally sourced ingredients.

The Deal:  A special prix fixe menu for the annual Feast of Love Three Courses $85

laurel and sage

Laurel and Sage:  33 Walnut St. Montclair, NJ, 07042

The Chef at Laurel and Sage has had quite a few gigs in restaurants during his illustrious career.  These restaurants specialized in Farm to Table, Asian, Mediterranean, and American fare to name a few.  His experience is on display at this delightful neighborhood restaurant, in each dish that he creates in his kitchen.  You never know what you might find at this eclectic eatery and that is why I love it.  Couples that can never decide where they want to eat will do well at Laurel and Sage.

 

The Deal:  4-course menu with options for $65 per person

Saddle River Inn

Saddle River Inn:  2 Barnstable Court Saddle River, NJ 07458

Before fine dining was hip, hell before hipsters existed, The Saddle River Inn was churning out some of the best food North Jersey had to offer.  Since 1981 this rustic, yet romantic establishment has been located on the William Packard Estate along the Saddle River.  Although the original owners of this long established eatery have recently called it quits, the new owners seem to have hit the ground running and are still creating wonderful French dishes.

The Deal:  Chef’s Season Tasting Menu described as a culinary journey including height of the season ingredients.  Four course $80, Five Course $90, and 6 Course $100

 

 

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Read, Solve, Eat… Repeat! A Gastronaut Scavenger Hunt

If I were to create a hierarchy of things that make this Blue Collar Foodie smile wider than the Cheshire Cat on Molly, food would be damn near at the apex of this mountain of amazeballs and competition would not be too far behind.  Relax, my wife, my family, the Sunday Sippers, my furry babies, and all that other sappy crap are on that short list too, but this is a food blog and not the Hallmark Channel so how about we focus on the first two and try not to catch the feels.

We all know I love food, and shit you do too if you are reading this inane excuse to stare at food porn, but I feel I should explain my need, no my desire to compete.  I am a recovering jock and I go to meetings, in the form of playing all sorts of sports that is, about once a week for 10 months out of the year.  However, my sickness goes much deeper, I will debate a topic at a bar that I don’t even care about, shit, sometimes I will take the side of an argument that I oppose simply to see if I can win.  It is also not rare at all that a night of drinking ends in a push-up contest, race, or some cockamamie made up game.  During one particular relapse, I created a game called dreidel wars and battled my friends for hours, and I am quite ashamed about how intense our “game” got.  Let’s just say that Kat has banned D-Dub during the holiday season.

Normally my food obsession and my aspiration to compete have to take turns controlling my easily distracted frontal lobe.  That is until my favorite secret adventurous eating society, the Gastronauts, teamed up with the remarkable game designers at Interactive Escapes to create a no holds barred food focused Scavenger Hunt.

Gastronauts_LOGO

Yes, I understand that since I used a hyperlink to point you in the direction of the “Secret Adventurous Eating Society,” I am a member of, it means that this particular group is not as secret as I may have led you to believe.  However, it sounds so much cooler to be a member of a secret society, I mean I can place a link to the Freemasons here, it does not mean that they don’t control the world of finance, and I could link to Scientology as well.   I won’t because I ain’t trying to be on that list, that list gets you murked.  Those bitches be crazy.  Can’t you guys just let me have this one?  No?  Fine, I hate you internets, I truly do.

Now that you have crushed my dreams, I guess I can move on to discussing the epic scavenger hunt Kat, our friend Alex, and I participated in on Saturday November 5, 2016 in Jackson Heights, NY.  First off, I think I would do you guys a disservice to explain each and every aspect of this highly interactive adventure that was cooked up by the ingenious minds of the dynamic duo, that I have deemed the Gastro Game Gangstas A.K.A. Curtiss and Prescott.

Instead of walking you through the entire game and boring you with my furious verbosity I will simply summarize the plot of the game and then move onto the all-important food porn.  Yes, there was a plot, and it was both well thought out and executed.  This wasn’t one of those bullshit scavenger hunts where you have to find 10 items that were haphazardly placed throughout the city for no other reason but because the game master said so.

MeetUp

When we arrived at the arranged meeting place we were divided into teams and informed that we all had a rougher night than Hillary on November 8th.  Apparently, we all attended a bachelor party celebration and we not only lost our wallets but we lost our dignity as well.  The good news was the MTA found our wallets, however the bad news was we lost The Groom!!!  (Cue overly dramatic music and fake gasp!)

Team Ela!!!

Team Ela!!!

Our mission was to shake our hangover off, retrace our steps, and get the groom to his wedding.  Easy, peasy, Right?  Wrong!  Due to us drinking heavier than Bill Murray after the Cubbies spanked the Tribe in Game 7, we remember very little from the previous night, making this task slightly harder than one would expect.

Game On!!!

Game On!!!

We were instructed not to open our provided wallets until we entered the Subway and began our journey to Jackson Heights.  Moments later we found ourselves on a Subway Car feverishly searching our wallet for clues that needed to be solved, and there were quite a few.  The game was a foot and we were eager to destroy the competition, Highlander style!  THERE CAN ONLY BE ONE!!!

We solved the first puzzle almost immediately which was a hint to access the provided twitter account that Prescott and Curtiss had created specifically for the game.  From there we made some educated guesses on what the other clues could potentially mean, studied the boundary map, inspected every crevasse of our wallet and scoured every scrap of paper for information.  By the time we arrived at our station the five of us, emerged as Team Ela, our new found identity and we raced to our first stop.

Team Ela Unite!

Team Ela Unite!

The clues that were given were designed so as they could not simply be googled, however throughout the game we used the internet quite a bit.  Maps to find our way around, IMDB, Twitter, and of course the google machine to assist whenever it was needed.  That was the magic of the game play and one of the reasons I loved this hunt so much.  I was extremely impressed on how Interactive Escapes was able to create challenging, yet attainable goals that were not completely ruined by the internets, if anything allowing the use of a Smart Phone only enhanced the game.

Paan is chewed for its stimulant and psychoactive effects, not for its wonderful flavor. Why you ask? Because it does not have a wonderful flavor...

Paan is chewed for its stimulant and psychoactive effects, not for its wonderful flavor. Why you ask? Because it does not have a wonderful flavor…

The mechanics of the game were pretty straightforward, solve a clue, go to that establishment, eat the dish that you are supposed to order, and Tweet a photo of your team eating the yumminess.  Since food is the source of miraculous healing, once the game masters saw this Tweet they would send you a “memory”, which would be used later to locate the final meeting spot.  The more puzzles you solved the more food you ate, and this was no ordinary food either.  We rocked dumplings, momos, brains, booze, and more!

One of the clues lead us to a spa where Kat had to get a Henna tattoo in order to solve the puzzle.

One of the clues lead us to a spa where Kat had to get a Henna tattoo in order to solve the puzzle.

The scavenger hunt itself would have been fun but the addition of the food added to the overall enjoyment immensely.  Not to mention, the level of competition was fierce and contagious.  As we ran up and down city blocks, hectically trying to solve the clues that were being tweeted to us via Direct Message, we filled our bellies with the amazing food that this specific neighborhood of Jackson Heights had to offer.

If these Momos are wrong, I don't want to be right!

If these Momos are wrong, I don’t want to be right!

As we stuffed our talking holes with these delightful morsels we followed the Twitter Feed and hoped that we would be victorious.  We fought hard and earned a respectable amount of points but due to a mistake on our part, waiting 25 minutes for the wrong Momo’s, early in the game, we failed to take the crown.  We did however come in third and were the only team to find the secret Easter Egg that Curtiss and Prescott had placed in the game grid.

MmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmOMO!!!!!

MmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmOMO!!!!!

I implore all of you that are reading this to bug, pester, annoy, and harass Curtiss and Prescott to set another one of these up, and soon!  Not only do I think this a must for any Foodie in the NYC Area, I really want to do this again, but this time I want to WIN!  Thanks for the heaping spoonful of Awesome Sauce Curtiss and Prescott, can’t wait until next time!

Of Course there was beer too!!!

Even theme specific beer made an appearance!

P.S. If you are into scavenger hunts but not into leaving the house, check out Interactive Escapes Free Online Scavenger Hunt.  Only one person has beaten it so far, but I am on my way!  Good Luck, it can be infuriating.

Bacon Fest 2015

Once a year, on International Bacon Day, instead of attending food or beer festivals, I host one. Not just any old fiesta either, a tiny subversive underground shindig one can only attend if invited by me or mine. This event is entitled Bacon Fest and this year we celebrated our fifth anniversary in style.

Peace Love And Bacon
Bacon Fest is comprised of 13 amateur chefs preparing their favorite bacon concoctions and presenting them, pot luck style, to be judged by our guests. The competition is fierce, and the prize, simple bragging rights. Well, that and the coveted Cup of St. Anthony, who happens to be the patron Saint of Bacon. This Trophy, much like the Stanley Cup, is only borrowed for the year, because the following year, the winner must bring it back and present it to the next Bacon Fest Champion.

This event features some of the most whacked out, innovative, and straight up fucking delicious bacon dishes I have ever sunk my teeth into; and that is saying something friends because I like bacon, like Jared likes jailbait. However, that is not the only reason we throw this salty soiree. Each year we donate not 10%, not 50%, but 100% of the proceeds of this cured meat jamboree to a charity of our choosing.

Since you have all obviously clicked this link to see the filthy food porn and read descriptions of bacon preparations that would make Ron Jeremy blush, without further ado I bring to you this year’s Bacon Fest entries. We will get back to the trivial details a little later:

A – “The Bloody Wilbur”
How could one conceivably improve on the quintessential brunch cocktail, The Bloody Mary, you ask? Add Bacon and Guinness of course! This invigorating concoction unites the traditional essence of the Bloody Mary with the velvety goodness of Guinness and the smoky flair of Bacon Infused Vodka. This “boarish” libation should be imbibed utilizing the provided handcrafted candied bacon straw.

Brunch served in a glass!

Brunch served in a glass!

2 – “Fall Fest”
Baked sweet potatoes topped with sautéed apples and bacon, reminding you of your grandmother’s apple pie…but with bacony goodness! Swallow down with a mouth full of delicious, cold Oktoberfest!

Apples, Bacon, and BEER! OH MY!

Apples, Bacon, and BEER! OH MY!

3 – “Three Drunken Pigs”
Imagine three pigs from three different nations sat down with a bottle of bourbon then finished with a nice rich breakfast gravy.

This gravy would make a southern girl swoon!

This gravy would make a southern girl swoon!

4 – “Chicken Ba-Bombs”
Jalapenos filled with cheese, stuffed in chicken, and wrapped lovingly in bacon. These delicious Ba-Bombs are exploding with all sorts of cheesy, salty, and meaty flavor.

ChickenBaBombs

Like the Turducken of Bacon Fest!

5 – “S’more Bacon Please!”
Your favorite campfire delight, but with bacon! This is a bacon s’mores no-bake cheesecake with bacon bits mixed into the graham. Complete with a marshmallow, cool whip, and cream cheese layer plus a bacon chocolate layer on top. This delight has an added layer of bacon bits topped with a roasted marshmallow on a stick. This is the best way to end the summer!

SmoresBacon

Who needs camping when you have this delightful treats!

6 – “Xun Rou Bao (Bacon Buns)”
Inspired by the delectable dim sum treat, these dense, soft buns are filled with a sweet & savory BBQ bacon filling. If these were on the dim sum cart, the old ladies would never have to resort to the hard sale.

Xun Rou Bao

MMMMMmmmmmmmmm Dim Sum!

7 – “Breakfast for Dessert”
Espresso Chocolate Mousse with bacon fat and bourbon, caramelized bananas, fresh vanilla bean whipped cream and bacon sprinkles in a flaky crust. Bacon sprinkles are for winners and that is what this dish is.

You had me at Bacon Fat and Bourbon!

You had me at Bacon Fat and Bourbon!

8 – “Did someone say Tots?”
This Cheesy Tater Tot breakfast bake combines all your morning faves! Sausage, tots, cheese, eggs, and of course BACON! So, stick your fork in it and take a bite… cause it’s 5 A.M. somewhere.

This was better than if you replace the O with an I...

This was better than if you replace the O with an I…

9 – “Scuttlebutt Bites “
This Ebelskiver or traditional Danish pancake is prepared with fruit butter and Applewood smoked bacon before being topped off with a bacon glaze for good measure. Everyone will be talking about these tasty treats!

Even though I can't pronounce them, I sure as hell with eat them!

Even though I can’t pronounce them, I sure as hell with eat them!

10 – “Backels”
As the leaves change colors and fall from the sky certain edibles are simply irresistible. This is one of those wonderful treats, only these caramel apples are bite sized and chock full of bacon, chocolate, and nuts.

Caramel Apples with Bacon? Damn Straight!

Caramel Apples with Bacon? Damn Straight!

J – “All American Poppers”
Beer battered and fried, these balls of freedom are part homemade mashed red skin potatoes, part cheddar cheese, and part bacon, but I assure you they are 100 percent ‘merica!

'Merica, FUCK YEA!

‘Merica, FUCK YEA!

Q – “Bacon Wrapped Stuffed Pork Roulettes”
Nothing goes better with bacon than a nice pork cutlet. Especially, when it is pounded thin, layered with stuffing, rolled up and then wrapped in the salty temptress.

Pig Wrapped in Pig PEOPLE!!!

Pig Wrapped in Pig PEOPLE!!!

K – “Ice Cream for Breakfast?”
Maple flavored ice cream with candied bacon and Amaretto liqueur, served on a homemade chocolate chip waffle. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day and now it includes bacon, booze, and ice cream!

Fifty Scoops Of Awesome!

Fifty Scoops Of Awesome!

You may have noticed that in front of each of the food descriptions above, there is a number or a letter. If you are slightly smarter than the hog that was transformed into the bacon that is celebrated on this most joyous occasion, you may have put two and two together and got something that resembled a four. This inkling would be correct, those symbols reassemble the ones in a deck of cards. There is a reason for that, in order to level the playing field, each Bacon Fest judge receives five playing cards that correspond with the dishes that are being served and judge only them, without knowing who prepared them. After about an hour, all the votes are in and the leftovers are devoured by the hoard of bacon lovers.

Bacon, Bacon, and more Bacon is not the only thing that is consumed during Bacon Fest! We of course have to provide something to wash that bacon down with, and I will give you all just one guess as to what that fine fucking liquid would be… Did someone say, Craft Beer? You are correct sir! This year we delivered libations fit for a king, Founders All Day IPA and Troegs Sunshine Pilsner. Not to mention a sweet ass souvenir cup complete with the Bacon Fest Slogan, “Peace, Love, and Bacon.”

baconfestcups

When all the votes were tallied and our Stomachs were chock-full of Bacon, Barley, Hops, and Happy, Kat delivered unto me the final standings. A hush fell over the crowd as I delivered the standings:

Third Place: “Chicken Ba-Bombs”
Second Place: S’more Bacon Please!
First Place: Scuttlebutt Bites

Before I close this ode to Bacon Fest out, I would like to genuinely thank everyone that attended, especially the Chefs because without them this bacon bash would not be possible, and not only would our taste buds suffer but the selected charities would too. If you have ever planned a wedding you understand how annoying the details are, yet how rewarding and magical the outcome is. Now imagine planning a union between Bacon and Beer, every year… That my friends is the fairy-tale of Bacon Fest!

Bacon Pimp!

Sir Bacon of Pimptown!